It’s trite but true that music brings people together. I’m currently on an enjoyable summer tour with Fat Freddys Drop, Anika, Boh and Hollie and the star-studded The Adults. I get to hang out and talk music rubbish with my music idols, so like a star struck teenager I’ve been hassling Julia Deans for scraps of information on a song that to this day conjures up warm memories of being 20-ish (and in love) at the turn of the century.
Ms Deans was typically modest when questioned about writing Lydia. She was listening to ’50s pop, she recalls sitting on some gauche coloured carpet in her bedroom when the inspiration hit. It was all over in five minutes. Just, “One of those good days at the office,” she suggested!
You couldn’t escape it on radio at the time, it was thrashed across all formats, it’s an undeniable hit and voted into the Top 20 NZ songs of all time. Why?
It begins with a sparse ’50s-esque groove, vocals-bass-rim-shot-tight-hats-kick. Julia’s delivery is droll, laconic and slightly understated.
She’s confiding in you, up close and personal with a narrative familiar to anyone suffering second thoughts on a break up.
I vi iii IV in E major sets up a diatonic turnaround focusing on the Plagal cadence which anchors every subsequent section bar one.
The pre-chorus introduces the first non-diatonic III chord G# (I III vi IV) while Julia adds to the tension by straying into an intentional melodic clash on the word ‘hold’ singing a major 6th (C#) against the B# in the III chord. The unease is palpable but sweetens the release into the delicately soaring chorus over a stock I V vi IV.
Tremolo guitar joins at V2, held chords – no strum, just enough to shift us up a gear while Julia’s character submits a grudging admiration for the eponymous Lydia. It’s a great ‘both sides of the coin’ lyric and serves to present Julia’s character as gracious and objective, admirable traits all sympathetic listeners can respect and root for.
Adding another subtle layer before the second chorus is some fantastically placed organ. She can’t remember who played it (it has been over a decade), either her or producer David Long.
A small snare is then added to beat 4 on a doubled CH2 preceding probably my third favourite moment, where the arc of the more natural sounding four-measure phrase is truncated with a shift to new ‘chorus tag’ containing a slightly more snarling vocal delivery complete with full snare on beats 2 and 4 over a five bar phrase utilizing the iconic IV-iv AND rising to the only perfect cadence in the song (vi IV iv V V)!
My second favourite moment is the unnervingly frail guitar solo, which captures the mood perfectly. Its restraint pulls the rock dial back down a few notches, before an even quieter V3 enables the final push toward the strident and heartfelt CH3 blowout to feel all the more spectacular.
My favourite moment in Lydia however, is Julia showing that narrative vulnerability in songwriting can be reinforced in recorded performance. After listening to Lydia on constant repeat I’m drawn more and more to her voice breaking slightly a couple of times in the last section. Bravo. It can be a tough decision to leave those kinds of fragile human moments in a track and requires a certain amount of trust in your listenership to accept the honesty. Long term I believe it ends up meaning more to a fan; it’s the imperfections that often connect at a deeper level.
So, there you have it. Hit song. 4/4. E major with a few C natural notes thrown about. Small start. Big ending. Easy.
Godfrey de Grut is a Silver Scroll co-winner with Che Fu. He is now a freelance writer, arranger and producer lecturing in popular music studies at the University of Auckland. Follow his musical ramblings @GodfreyDeGrut on Twitter, or email firstname.lastname@example.org